Even the dome of light glowing above the city behind us had disappeared as if swallowed in a gulp by Noah’s whale. The moon was absent. Not a star twinkled overhead. The night was so dark we could have been floating in a pot of black ink. The only artificial lights to be seen were those of the fore and aft running lights and the barely illuminated compass on the cabintrunk. Bioluminescent microorganisms stirred by our passing, shone faintly in our wake. Waves hissed as they swept past underneath us, lifting our stout, New England-made 30ft cutter, Kluane, (an Athabaska name meaning “big fish”) to heights impossible to judge in the dark. The troughs we slid down into seemed bottomless.
Less than two hours had passed since we’d weighed anchor a little after 0300 in South Florida’s Palm Beach inlet. Already we were in the Gulf Stream. This was the first ocean crossing for my wife and me, and our anxiety level was high. All was black with no demarcation between sky and water. Ahead was only darkness.
We are creatures of the light. Dark frightens, disorients, distorts. Few comforting words are said about it. The dark and our inexperience magnified every worry. Our anxieties increased by orders of magnitude.
A halyard jammed. In the dark, it couldn’t be freed. We had no choice but to lash the mainsail to the mast still halfway up. A freighter charged down on us. We crossed its stern, rocking in its wake. A quarter-mile is too close, especially after dark. The Loran (soon to be replaced by GPS, thank goodness!) crashed. Below, trying to reprogram it, I became seasick to the point of incapacity. I ceded all authority to my wife. “Sit down in the corner, and don’t get sick in the cockpit,” was her command…